Page last updated at 16:37 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

Art gallery opens swingers' club to mixed response

An interior view of the swingers club Element6
Gallery visitors must pass through the dimly-lit swingers club

A sex club has moved into an art gallery with the stated aim of helping visitors to a Gustav Klimt exhibition confront their sexual inhibitions.

The Secession, a contemporary art venue in Vienna, has incorporated the club, named Element6, as part of a project by Swiss artist Christoph Buechel.

Visitors must walk through it to reach one of Klimt's paintings.

A spokesman said Buechel hoped to spark a scandal similar to when Klimt's Beethoven Frieze was exhibited in 1902.

It has already attracted opposition from Austria's far-right Freedom Party, which issued no fewer than six press releases denouncing the project on Monday and Tuesday.

"By abusing artistic freedom, the significance of Austria as a country of culture and of Vienna as a cultural capital is being dragged in the mud," said local Freedom Party politician Gerald Ebinger.

According to Germany's Bild newspaper, local councillor Ursula Stenzel, who initially approved the installation, subsequently got cold feet.

"I signed the approval only under massive protest," she was quoted as saying.

"It was always spoken of as an art project with a nightclub, but never as a swingers' club."

Vienna's Mayor, Michael Haeupl, added that he did not approve of the club, but noted that outraged politicians and newspapers were playing into the artist's hands


Klimt's 1902 painting Beethoven Frieze was once considered obscene and pornographic because of the way women's bodies were depicted, but it is now seen as one of the Austrian artist's key works.

The painting is on display in the basement of the Secession, and visitors must pass through the swingers' club to reach it.

While the club only opens at night, long after the art hall closes, daytime visitors aged 18 and older pass through its dimly lit rooms, complete with mattresses, bar and spa bath.

The club, which is normally located in another part of town, said its participation "aims to give as many people as possible the opportunity to overcome their inhibitions".

"In the framework of this exhibition at the Secession, each individual can test for himself or herself whether this opens up new dimensions for his or her own sexuality," the club said in a statement.

Citizens on the streets of Vienna seemed to be more relaxed about the exhibition - and exhibitionists - than the local press and politicians.

"I think it's perfectly OK," said Moritz Wagner, a 26-year-old medical student.

"It's not my thing but why not?" added Ute Wegscheider. "Maybe I should go check it out with my husband!"

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